Climate Change and STEM Career Preparation: Building a Diverse Workforce


There are three preconditions that can set students up emotionally for the excitement of science:

  1. Students need to have engaging, culturally appropriate, and positive experiences with STEM in school early and often;
  2. Students need to be able to see themselves as future scientists; and
  3. Students need to believe that there will be resources available to make their dreams happen.

Engaging, Culturally Appropriate, and Positive Experiences with STEM

Watch the "STEM Careers Grad Students" video from PBS LearningMedia. This clip was designed to get students to think about future jobs and to break down stereotypes they may have about STEM careers. How do you think your students would react and relate to this video?

Next, watch "Bridging Culture, Community and Science," which documents an exemplary and place-based STEM education program explicitly tying students to their cultural heritage as they design their own investigations. What has made this program relevant to the students involved?

Future Scientists

The popular conception of a scientist is of a loner, someone who hides in the lab and avoids other people. In fact however, scientific research is a highly social activity. You will interact with research advisors, colleagues in the lab, and outside collaborators. You will have to learn from and teach others, exchange criticism and ideas.

— Bloomfield and El-Fakahany (2008)

What is a scientist like? Scientists are as unique and individual as anyone else, so probably every one of the caricatures or stereotypes you can imagine is an accurate depiction of someone. Watch the "When You Think of a Scientist…" video, which surveys students about their preconceptions about scientists. Which of these ideas are accurate?

Who becomes a scientist or engineer? People who grow up to be scientists and engineers are usually curious about how things work, whether it is a mechanical object or a process they see in nature. They also tend to ask questions and are not satisfied until they find the answer. In school, most of them enjoyed studying math and science. Sometimes, it is difficult for students to see themselves as future scientists, particularly because most of them have never even met a scientist (Alberts, 2010). Explore "What are Scientists and Engineers Like?" and think about how your students might answer this question.

Educators play a critical role in fostering students' interest in STEM careers by shattering damaging stereotypes students have about scientists and by providing access to information about women and individuals from underrepresented groups who work in STEM fields. Students need access to positive role models in STEM fields, and importantly, need to "see themselves" as scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. They need to see scientists, engineers, and mathematicians who share gender, race, and ethnic characteristics with themselves.

Next, watch "STEM Careers Middle School" from PBS LearningMedia and look at the discussion questions accompanying the video for interesting and effective activities to do with your students. Consider having students visit websites like the Sloan Career Cornerstone Center to look at specific STEM climate change related careers, such as Environmental Engineering. Also students can receive specific information on STEM careers in climate science by visiting NASA’s Astro-Venture career site. Check out the job of a climatologist

Many young students, particularly girls, see math and science as difficult, and do not take any more classes than what is required, not realizing they are limiting themselves from future opportunities. Read "Tracking The Reasons Many Girls Avoid Science and Math" from ScienceDaily. As you read, consider the girls in your own classes and how you can boost their confidence in their abilities. Then go to the website NASA G.I.R.L.S. (Giving Initiative and Relevance to Learning Science) to learn about a virtual mentoring project that offers a one-of-a-kind experience to middle school girls across the country. Girls will be mentored by Women@NASA using Skype or Google Chat.

Do you think there is a gender gap in mathematics when it comes to girls and boys? Listen to the "Girls and Math – No gender gap in math" podcast from Scientific American to hear about the latest research results on girls' ability to think mathematically.

How can we encourage more girls to take math and science? Explore "What Does Research Tell Us About How to Encourage Girls in Math and Science?—Workshop Resources" from Education Northwest, which is a practical guide with strategies and videos that teachers and other school personnel can follow to encourage girls to choose career paths in math and science fields.

Girls particularly need to know that they can succeed in engineering, science, mathematics, and technology activities, and ultimately, in STEM careers. Middle school is a critical time for girls because they will often get turned off to STEM topics for a variety of reasons. Watch the "Girls Explore IT Careers" video and think about how you could develop your science program to incorporate girls' interests in design, communication technology, and social networking.

Making Dreams a Reality

Students need to believe that there will be resources available to make their dreams come true. Students can learn how NASA internships and co-op programs influenced scientists and engineers working on exploration projects today. These opportunities are available for all students interested in STEM careers.

Take a moment to read the article "STEM Stimulus: Support for STEM Initiatives at State, Federal and Cultural Levels" from SPOTLIGHT on Digital Media and Learning. If you have ever considered starting, facilitating, or helping in an after-school STEM program, this article will help you understand why such programs have proved to increase the likelihood of students graduating and pursuing STEM careers. Make sure to click on "STEM Learning in After-School: An Analysis of Impact and Outcomes" upon which this article is based.

Go to the NASA eClips website. Click on Grades K-5 (Our World) and scroll down through the list of videos to find "Our World: Careers at NASA - More Than Just Astronauts". As you watch, consider what programs and careers might be of interest to your students and help them learn how to acquire more information about them.

The Jet Propulsion Lab at the California Institute of Technology is a NASA facility that encourages student participation in STEM programs. Look at "My (High School) Summer at JPL" for an example of a video that may inspire students to pursue a STEM career.

The Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts offers a Mathematics and Science for Minority Students program for 110 African American, Latino, and Native American public school students from targeted cities across the United States, giving students an opportunity to immerse themselves in the study of mathematics, science, and English for three consecutive summers at the Academy. The program is free to all students who are accepted and all (MS)2 scholars begin the program in the summer following 9th grade. The program provides the scholars with appropriate and rigorous challenges to better prepare them for college and careers in engineering, science, medicine, computers, and other technical fields. Are there perhaps any similar programs offered in the area in which you live?

Check out the "Interdisciplinary National Science Project Incorporating Research and Education Experience" or INSPIRE program at JPL. This program is specifically for students who are interested in STEM education and careers. Click on the "Meet Our Students" link to watch short videos of different students sharing what they did during their internships. Which of these videos would be of interest to your students?

By doing your own research on the web and in your own city, county, or state you will find more resources to share with your students that involve STEM careers. Asking local scientists, especially those from underrepresented groups, to come and speak to your students is another potent way to engage your students in thinking about what lies ahead for them.

How can you specifically help your own students become interested in STEM fields and find resources to help them further their dreams?

Global Climate Change Modules

Online Professional Development

PBS Teacherline

PBS TeacherLine, the premier provider of online professional development services for PreK-12 educators, has the goal of making professional development accessible, affordable and engaging for teachers. Our hope is that our courses can help inspire and guide STEM learning at every age and in every discipline.

Integrate science and mathematics learning with technology and the engineering design process to investigate solutions to real-world problems with our STEM courses.

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